I have grumbled about this any number of times, and I will spare you the full rant. Magic is, so far, not a central point of this story (although that may change) but I wanted to keep it unpredictable. This came to me last night in a flash of inspiration, and I'll inflict an excerpt on you, because I thought it was entertaining.
Naturally, somebody will now point out the ten other books that used this same principle, and I will cry, because even when we think we're being wildly creative, there's nothing new under the sun...
All wizards are crazy.
Not the quaint, colloquial “crazy” where you have an offbeat sense of humor and wear brightly colored socks, not mild eccentricity coupled with a general lack of fashion sense, not “you don’t have to be crazy to work here, but it helps.” Wizards aren’t weird. They are genuinely, legitimately, around the bend.
This is because magic is a form of psychosis.
Forget the bearded men wearing robes covered in stars trying to sell you bargain spellbooks. Nine times out of ten, it’s a scam, and the tenth time, they really can do magic, but it’s not something they can teach.*
Various parties have done intensive studies of Arcane Manifestation Disorder or AMD, and the results often make for interesting reading, but they still don’t know what causes someone to have a sudden psychotic break and wake up able to throw fire from their fingertips. It just happens.
There are basically two kinds of sufferers of AMD—the high-functioning, and the rather less so. High functioning wizards can live on their own, and while they tend to be shy and awkward in social situations, meticulously neat, and easily startled, they’re not any worse off than the rest of us.
The more unfortunate wizards generally require someone to dress them and can’t be allowed near any sharp objects.
By its very nature, magic is highly complex and highly individual. It’s hard to say what magic can and can’t do, because it varies so wildly between wizards. Some of them are battle machines, some of them are good in the garden, some of them do weather. Some of them can, on a good day, turn mushrooms into hedgehogs, and some of them can shatter mountains. There’s a young woman in East Chard who can’t talk, but can heal just about anything that ails you. You just don’t know.
Because of this unpredictability, nobody much relies on magic. People have tried, but you get a lot of very unhappy wizards, and they’re not a group you want to make unhappy. While individuals with AMD often find work suited to their own particular talents, the only large institution with a policy of employing wizards en masse is the army.
Sergeant Nessilka had been in the Goblin Army since she was old enough to lie about her age, and she had encountered a fair number of enemy wizards.** There’d been the one who shot smothering clouds of butterflies out of his fingertips, and the one who made people’s skeletons shuck off their bodies like someone taking off a heavy coat, and one who’d just made people go away.
This guy shot blue out of his mouth. Nessilka had never seen anybody shoot blue from their mouths, but the goblins who’d been hit weren’t getting up again, and that was more than enough for her.
*Some forms of insanity can indeed be taught. Unfortunately, magic doesn’t seem to be one of them.
** The Goblin Army employs wizards as well. Due to the uncomplicated nature of goblin psychology, AMD seems to manifest as a reckless disregard for personal well-being, making the Magician Corps the only group more feared than the Mechanic Corps, and with a higher rate of turn-over.